WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its idea of posting potential disaster casualty figures for chemical plants on the Internet, bowing to concerns that the information would aid terrorists.
"The EPA and FBI recognize that chemical facilities may be a target for terrorism even without the sensitive data on the Internet," the EPA wrote in a letter to House Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley (R-Va.).
The Associated Press reported Oct. 30 that the FBI, the CIA, the National Fire Chiefs Assn. and lawmakers, including Bliley, had been raising concerns for nearly a year about the Internet plan for distributing the "worst-case scenario" data. The EPA, however, appeared reluctant to drop the concept.
The intelligence community was concerned that putting the data on the Internet might give terrorists a road map for targeting facilities for the most catastrophic attacks. Environmental groups strongly advocated disclosure of the information, saying it was important for people who live near plants to know potential dangers.
At the time of the AP story, agency officials said they were working to find a way to allay the concerns.
The EPA letter to Bliley said the agency had adopted an alternate idea suggested by the FBI that would make the worst-case data, which includes casualty estimates in case of a chemical release for each plant, available to state and local agencies and libraries via a secure computer system.
It was Congress that first mandated that the information be made public. The Clean Air Act required the EPA to disclose information it has collected from about 66,000 chemical manufacturing sites across the nation under its Risk Management Plan.
The law didn't specify how the information should be disclosed.